Evidence of meeting #9 for Public Safety and National Security in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was prison.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Andrea Markowski  Warden, Edmonton Institution for Women, Correctional Service of Canada
  • Darcy Thompson  Security Intelligence Officer, Drumheller Institution, Correctional Service of Canada

October 27th, 2011 / 11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Good morning, everyone. This is meeting number nine of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, October 27, 2011.

Today we're going to continue our study on drugs and alcohol in prisons. We are examining how drugs and alcohol enter prisons and the impacts they have on the rehabilitation of offenders, the safety of correctional officials, and on crime within the institutions.

For the listening audience, I will state that on Tuesday of this week, our committee traveled to Kingston to inspect the institutions of Collins Bay and Joyceville. I'm certain that all members benefited from that experience and from what we learned there in regards to our study—and probably a little more than just in regards to our study. It was informative just being able to hear some of the concerns of both offenders and correctional officers, and management as well.

We have one panel of witnesses appearing before us today via teleconference from Edmonton, Alberta. We have Andrea Markowski, the warden at the Edmonton Institution for Women; and from my constituency of Crowfoot, we have Darcy Thompson, security intelligence officer at the Drumheller Institution.

On behalf of our committee, I want to thank both of our witnesses for their time and effort in helping us with our study. We appreciate very much having your input. We apologize that we couldn't have you here today and couldn't have it via video conferencing. It was a matter of the resources at this end, I think, that let us down.

We also apologize for being a little late today. We had a vote in the House of Commons. It was a quick vote dealing with the long-gun registry, which for some of us was fairly important.

I invite both of you now, Mr. Thompson, and Ms. Markowski, to give some opening comments, and then we will move into a couple rounds of questions that we may have for you. We look forward to your comments.

Thank you for joining us via teleconference.

11:40 a.m.

Andrea Markowski Warden, Edmonton Institution for Women, Correctional Service of Canada

Thank you.

I'm Andrea Markowski and I'll provide my opening remarks first and then Darcy will follow me.

Good morning to you, Mr. Chair, and all the committee members. I want to thank you for asking me to appear and giving me an opportunity to share my experiences with you.

I've been the warden here at Edmonton Institution for Women since April 2009. You'll probably hear me refer to Edmonton Institution for Women as EIFW. That's the acronym that we often use. EIFW is one of six regional multi-level facilities for federally sentenced women in Canada. One of those facilities is a healing lodge, called Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, near Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. In that facility they only house minimum- and medium-security women, but the other five facilities are fully multi-level: minimum, medium, and maximum.

By way of background, I want to let you know that EIFW has a capacity for 125 women. We have 100 minimum- and medium-security beds for our general population; we have 10 beds in the structured living unit, a mental health placement unit; and we have 15 maximum security beds, totalling a 125-bed capacity.

It's noteworthy that we've been operating at or above capacity for the last few years. We're using double-bunking in our secure unit, which is the maximum-security level, as a means of managing this population pressure. At times, we have had to use our private family visiting units as regular housing for women within the general population. But infrastructure enhancements are under way, and we will be adding 40 minimum beds and four additional beds to the structured living unit for a total of 44 additional beds over the next few years.

Our approach at facilities for federally sentenced women in Canada is based on the principles established by the task force report called Creating Choices, namely meaningful and responsible choices, shared responsibility, respect and dignity, empowerment, and a supportive environment. These principles guide the operation and design of our facilities, and also the way in which we deliver services to women. In that sense, we work collaboratively with the women who live here—and you'll often hear me refer to them in that way—to build a community where everyone can feel included, respected, and able to flourish.

With respect to federally sentenced women, the women-offender population is the fastest-growing incarcerated population in Canada, surpassed only by the aboriginal women-offender population.

Most women admitted to federal custody have serious substance abuse concerns that require intervention; many suffer from mental health difficulties; most have experienced trauma in the form of physical and sexual violence during disrupted and chaotic childhoods and victimization in adulthood; and about half, and in fact up to about 65%, are serving a sentence for violence offences. Most of these women are suffering from severe substance abuse difficulties. Some will continue to seek drugs during their sentence, particularly at the beginning when they're just starting out on their journey.

Drug abuse can take many forms inside institutions. It can include illicit and prescription drugs, as well as the consumption of substances that contain alcohol, such as homemade brew. We take a coordinated approach to these challenges—prevention, intervention, and interdiction. Darcy is going to speak to you at greater length about some of our activities.

Drug and alcohol abuse in prison is somewhat different in a women's facility. A woman's ability to hide items in her body cavity for long periods of time can impede our interdiction efforts. It certainly makes dry cell interventions—which I can explain to you later, if you're not sure what that is—a less effective intervention for us. Those are specific challenges we face.

However, the women do tend to have fewer connections outside of prison, so in that sense, we have fewer throw-overs; and smuggling of drugs into the facility and within the facility is less evident than in prisons for men. But the reality is that women sometimes do arrive at our site from remand centres with drugs or other unauthorized items like tobacco, or they attempt to bring them in when they've been on an escorted absence or when they've had visits in the facility.

Efforts by the Correctional Service of Canada, such as our investments and enhancements at principal entrances, perimeter security, the effective use of dynamic and static security, and the bolstering of our intelligence capacity have really proven to be effective deterrents. This notion is supported at my institution and at women's facilities in general across the country by very low rates of drug seizures and a low rate of positive urinalysis testing.

In order to address the root issue of substance abuse, women in federal custody are offered comprehensive mental health and substance abuse assessments on intake. These assessments are followed by the development of a detailed and comprehensive correctional plan.

Gender-sensitive interventions are offered as early as during the intake process. In fact, on average women begin programming within 50 days of arriving at our facility—and that is still within the intake process phase. Women are highly motivated to engage in treatment while they're incarcerated, so we have very high rates of enrolment and completion of programs.

While some women are loosely affiliated with gangs prior to their incarceration—usually through a male partner—they rarely carry on these activities while they in custody. Therefore, gang management in women's facilities is not a major concern for us at this time.

Mr. Chair, I trust this covers some of the areas of your interest.

After Darcy Thompson has had the opportunity to provide his opening remarks, I would be more than happy to respond to any questions from the committee.

Thank you very much.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much.

We'll move to Mr. Thompson.

I should say, Mr. Thompson, before you begin, that at one committee a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned one of the tours that I had gone on in Drumheller and the intelligence board that you have there with the pictures and intelligence-gathering information. You won many accolades from those involved. I think the commissioner was one, and there were others.

So we're pleased to have you here today, and perhaps your testimony here today is a result of some of those testimonials and the recognition of what you do there in Drumheller.

Mr. Thompson.

11:50 a.m.

Darcy Thompson Security Intelligence Officer, Drumheller Institution, Correctional Service of Canada

Thank you very much for your comments. They are very much appreciated. Mr. Chair, I would really like to thank you for this unique opportunity. It is an honour and a privilege to share my experiences with you.

My name is Darcy Thompson. I am a security intelligence officer in the Drumheller Institution in the prairie region. We are a medium security institution, housing approximately 600 inmates. Surrounding our institution is a 15-foot double fence equipped with a fence detection system, as well as a motion detection system between the fences. We also have a minimum security unit located outside the perimeter fence, which currently has a capacity of 72 beds.

I've been working for the Correctional Service of Canada for just over 17 years. I have been a security intelligence officer for 9 of those 17 years. Prior to assuming this role in 2002, I was a correctional officer and was also involved with the institutional emergency response team, first as a member, then as team leader at Drumheller.

As an intelligence officer, one of my main responsibilities is to gather information, process that information into intelligence, and provide that intelligence to our decision-makers. Our overall goal, of course, is to maintain a safe and secure environment inside the institution for both staff and inmates, as well as the community as a whole. We gather information from a variety of different sources, including electronic means and image sources, but most of all, from our staff who work with offenders on a daily basis. The more information I share with the staff, the more information I receive back, which is essential for us to do an effective job.

It goes without saying that information-sharing goes beyond CSC. We have established positive relationships with our law enforcement partners, such as the RCMP, municipal police departments, Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, and the Canada Border Services Agency, to name a few. Our ability to share information is crucial in the fight against criminal activity within our institutions and in the community, especially when it comes to drugs, gangs, and violence.

Mr. Chair, we know that gangs and drugs go hand-in-hand. When members of a gang are incarcerated, it does not mean they cease their efforts to continue their criminal activity. As my commissioner said during his recent appearance, a significant amount of violence that occurs within the institution can somehow be tied back to drugs, debt, and gangs. Therefore, we need to continuously adapt and keep up with the most current information and new technologies to be able to put a stop to their activities.

For instance, when a new inmate is scheduled for placement at Drumheller, my department is consulted to see if he has a gang affiliation and whether he can safely exist in our population. Here communication within CSC and our partners becomes crucial. An incident could happen on the street, or in another institution, or in a remand centre that could drastically affect relationships between two groups in our population.

We also have effective tools in place to help stop the introduction of drugs into our institution. For example, our drug detector dog program is an excellent and effective means of identifying those who may try to bring drugs inside. Inmate visitors are a well-known means of introducing drugs. We have had numerous seizures as a result of our drug dogs. I have witnessed drivers of vehicles coming for a visit turn away as soon as they see the dog handler's vehicle parked at our entrance. I have listened to phone calls to inmates who are asked if they think the drug dog will be there. This program has proven itself not only effective in interdiction but also at deterrence.

Visitors aren't the only means to get drugs inside an institution. Inmates themselves may try to smuggle drugs back inside when returning from temporary absences. We have also seen offenders purposefully seek suspension and return from remand after they were able to acquire drugs on the street. Of course, we also see drugs introduced by throw-overs and hidden in the vehicles that come on our grounds. We have also seen contraband stashed in produce entering our kitchen. Inmates are very innovative, but it is my job, and that of every member of Drumheller's staff, to stay on top of the problem and use all of the resources at our disposal to keep drugs out.

Mr. Chair, over the years I have seen a dramatic change in how CSC is meeting this challenge head-on. I have provided you with just a few examples here. In my area, the increase in our security intelligence capacity, as well as the introduction of new technology and the establishment of positive working relationships within the intelligence community, have all proven that we are definitely moving in the right direction.

I would be happy to take any questions from the committee at this time.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you very much, both Ms. Markowski, and Mr. Thompson.

I will move into our first round, and we will go to the government.

Mr. Norlock, you have seven minutes.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Thank you.

It's sometimes of benefit to add a little bit of humour to these instances, if this weren't such a serious issue. I was looking at some of the pictures you sent along on how drugs enter our prisons. I saw a loaf of bread and it reminded me of the cartoon where people smuggle a file into jail so they can get out. So it doesn't surprise me. I imagine there are even cakes with drugs in them.

Some of my questions emanate from our visit yesterday to Joyceville. My question to one of the inmate representatives was whether drugs in a prison made prison safer for inmates. He indicated that a drug-free prison would be safer for inmates.

You left some things out of your statement, which is understandable. But some of the advocates on behalf of people who are in our prisons indicate that 70% of the drugs are brought in by staff. Of course, I'd like you to comment on that. You mentioned who was bringing the drugs into prisons, but I'd like you to elaborate on that.

Mr. Thompson, perhaps you can talk about the methods by which drugs have come into your institution that may differ from others. Or do they follow the same pattern?

Then you alluded to drugs, gangs, and violence. This government has invested quite heavily in funding drug interdiction in prisons, so I'd also like you to comment on the difference in the situation before and after that infusion of resources into drug interdiction.

You have a lot to chew on there.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Maybe I'll ask committee members whether they have questions specifically for one or both of the witnesses, because they can't see you. Otherwise whoever feels able to or wants to answer can go ahead.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

That's why I mentioned Mr. Thompson by name.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Yes. I'm just making sure everyone else knows that.

Mr. Thompson.

11:55 a.m.

Security Intelligence Officer, Drumheller Institution, Correctional Service of Canada

Darcy Thompson

To begin with, on the comment that 70% of drugs entering our institution do so through staff members, I don't believe that to be so. No organization wants to admit there's corruption within its staff, but in reality it does exist.

There are many methods that inmates can think of to get drugs inside our institution. The majority of the drugs enter as small portions via visitors who are attending open visits with the inmates. But there are a number of different ways, including private family visits, or when inmates go out into the community on escorted temporary absences. Normally they're in sight and sound of the escorting officer, but at times there is an opportunity to slip something into their pocket, such as when they go to the washroom.

We have contractors who are coming in all the time. We're not saying that all of the contractors are bringing contraband into the institution. But is it a reality? Yes, it is.

In my opinion, drugs are the evil of all evils, especially in an institutional environment. Muscling, extortion, debt, and violence are usually all tied back to drugs. We look at this as having two different elements. We look at the drug users and the drug dealers. The drug dealers are the main concern, in my capacity.

In the last few years there has been an increase in the capacity of our department, in terms of the number of security intelligence officers and administrative resources. I can honestly say that our drug seizures have significantly gone up since then.

Noon

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Thank you very much.

Can you expand on the banking system used with drugs? We've learned that drugs and tobacco are part of a banking system. There is no exchange of cash, but records are kept. Could you talk about that?

Noon

Security Intelligence Officer, Drumheller Institution, Correctional Service of Canada

Darcy Thompson

Normally, financial transactions are done on the street. If I'm a drug dealer and three inmates each owe me $100, I'll provide those three inmates with a bank account number and tell inmate number 1 to deposit $100.06 into that specific bank account. I will tell inmate number 2 to deposit $100.12 into that specific bank account, and inmate number 3, maybe $100.16. Then I'll phone my contact on the street to check the deposits into that account. If I know there is $100.06 deposited in that account, inmate number 1 has paid his debt.

Most of the financial transactions are not done inside the institution but on the street.

Noon

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Would you mind expanding on how in the prison, the chain of financial transactions actually relates to organized crime and gangs, and how the latter account for a significant part of the drug trade within prisons? Can you also expand on how the drugs themselves get into prison via gangs and organized crime?

Noon

Security Intelligence Officer, Drumheller Institution, Correctional Service of Canada

Darcy Thompson

Organized crime groups have a lot of connections on the street and, frankly, a lot of money. Normally, they would contact their connections on the street to arrange packages to be put together and to be brought into our institutions.

The main players and significant drug dealers within our institutions sometimes pressure other inmates to have their visitors bring them in. They are not normally directly involved with the drugs entering our institutions but are orchestrating it from inside our prisons. Normally, that's not done over our telephone system but through cell phones that have been smuggled in.

Noon

NDP

The Vice-Chair Randall Garrison

Thank you, Mr. Thompson.

For the benefit of the witnesses, I'm Randall Garrison, the vice-chair who has temporarily assumed the chair.

We'll go to the official opposition and Mr. Sandhu, for seven minutes.